Four-nation hockey: India face New Zealand in 2nd leg opener

Hockey World Cup

India will aim to put behind the disappointment of a first-leg final loss when they open their campaign against hosts New Zealand in the second leg of the Four Nations Invitational Hockey Tournament here on Wednesday.

In the first leg of the tournament, India got off to a good start with a 6-0 win against Japan but lost 0-2 to Belgium.

But the Manpreet Singh-led side bounced back with a 3-1 win over New Zealand to set up the summit clash with Belgium.

India topped the pool table with nine goals, conceding only three in the pool stage. Belgium scored 10 goals but conceded six.

“As a team we have made progress match after match. We had four young players make their debut and even scored in matches which is good,” chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said about India’s performance in the first leg.

“We came close to beating Olympic silver medallist Belgium which gives us a lot of confidence going into an important calendar year for hockey,” he added.

Althogh his team lost a closely-contested final 1-2 to Belgium, Marijne feels the result was positive.

“You must understand that Belgium is here with their complete squad and they are one of the best teams in the world,” he said.

“The fact that the youngsters have shown confidence in playing the world No.3 ranked side gives me more options as a coach and it is this competition within the team which will help us grow,” he added.

But Marijne pointed out that missed opportunities continue to dent his side’s chances.

“For me, most important is converting the chances into goals. We created enough opportunities but that’s not enough. We must score more,” he said on the eve of the opening match of the second leg.

Commenting on his side’s preparations, captain Manpreet said the team was eager to put up an improved performance here.

“Doing well against a team like Belgium will no doubt give us the confidence for future matches but winning against them will be a big boost to young players,” he said.

“To be able to do that, there are areas that require improvement and we need to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes we did in the previous matches.

“While doing well against a higher-ranked team like Belgium, who we will play in upcoming major tournaments like FIH Champions Trophy and the World Cup in Bhubaneswar, is a priority, winning against Japan and New Zealand has also been a plus point for this young squad,” the 25-year-old added.